Another year, another season, another edition of NBA Live from EA. There’s never much different in the new version, the core is always polished but stale, and there’s always something tacked on to add a bullet point to the box.
There are some issues to discuss. EA has implemented Dynamic DNA, a new feature that intends to make the AI players act like their real-life counterparts. Players are assigned certain probabilities of driving the lane, making cuts and posting up, and this leads to relatively accurate stats. How this plays in real-time is not that different, especially considering most players are stereotypical for their position. Shaq has already been camping in the lane and waiting for a pass in previous games; Steve Nash already passed it around and unselfishly got points for others. There are times, however, when it is noticeable. Big-man shooters like Dirk Nowitzki are more likely to run out to make jump shots, and selfish superstars like Kobe Bryant aren’t going to be setting screens for others.
This feature really seems to be the centerpiece of this year’s release, as these rosters are being updated daily as part of a service called NBA Live 365, included with the game (though it requires using an activation code…buying this used means paying a fee to activate it). The idea is that not only would injuries and lineups update, but also that streaky players and players with changing styles would update based on stats. This sounds great in principle, but the implementation is shaky at best. Some updates have wiped all players’ tendencies back to default except for a few teams, and early in the season, the initial ratings were thrown out, leading to a small pool of data and extreme, erratic versions of most players.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s been improved, if at least incrementally. Play calling has been improved, and is now specific to the situation and the player making the call. The plays are mapped out on the court, so calling unknown plays isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Controls are similar and fairly intuitive, even if EA is sticking to the awkward time-out interface.
EA has decided to commit to their idea of “next-gen” menus, with the game booting into a court and menu navigation done solely with the left stick and no buttons. Load times aren’t horrible, but the decision to let menu screens lag between makes them feel long and frustrating.
All in all, NBA Live ’09 is yet another incremental release; not that anyone should have been expecting anything else. You’re not missing out if you don’t pick it up, but it won’t be the most regrettable purchase either. Pick it up cheap if you can, but remember, if you buy it used you will have to pay to download some of its regular features.
Since EA tacked the new Be A Pro mode onto the game, we’ll tack it onto the review too. Playing as an individual pro and having performance rated is an interesting concept, but the mode only allows single games, so there are no rewards or consequences for your performance. If you do pick up 09, just never select this mode.
Plays like: NBA Live 08…and 07…and 06…
ESRB: E– As always, watch out for online voice chat.
Pros: Updated rosters.
Cons: New Live 365 feature doesn’t really work correctly, load times are frustrating.